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Interview: String Quartet Performing Immigrant Story in Jackson Ward

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Author and musician, Ellen Cockerham Riccio, who was also the founder of Classical Revolution RVA.
  • Author and musician, Ellen Cockerham Riccio, who was also the founder of Classical Revolution RVA.

This weekend, on Saturday, Jan. 21, a string quartet made up of Richmond Symphony members will be giving a free, educational performance called "Ady's American Adventure" at Atlas Gallery in Jackson Ward.

The story is about Ady, a young boy [update: and legal immigrant] who comes to the United States in the 1920s. It is written and narrated by violinist Ellen Cockerham Riccio. Other performers include Daisuke Yamamoto on violin, Molly Sharp on viola and Schuyler Slack on cello.

The 35-minute show originally was produced in 2015 for the Richmond Symphony's Musical Ambassadors Program and has already been performed in more than 50 schools. This will be the first public performance.

Cockerham Riccio says she is working on publishing the story so that string quartets in other cities can perform it. Although it is geared toward elementary school children, it is appropriate for all ages and guests are encouraged to arrive early for free coffee and bagels, provided by Nate's Bagels, according to a release.

Style caught up with Cockerham Riccio to learn more:

How did the project start? How did you come up with the story?

Ellen Cockerham Riccio: I wrote the story in 2015 for the Richmond Symphony string quartet to perform in schools all over the greater Richmond area. We wanted to introduce kids to American music, and a story seemed like a good way to hold their attention. The early 1920s saw a huge influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe, and there were so many great musicians playing and writing all different kinds of American music, so that's when the story takes place.

What does it mean to you personally?

My original intention with the story was to introduce kids to several different kinds of American music, but as the events of the last 15 months unfolded, the story took on new significance. There's a point in the story when Ady, the main character, learns that there is no single kind of American music, and that this country is big enough for all kinds of music, and all kinds of people. He learns that, as an immigrant, he is no less of an American than, say, a cowboy. The day after the election, I decided to publish the show so that string quartets in other cities could perform it. I think this is a message that urgently needs to be passed on to the next generation.

What do you think will most interest people about it?

In the story, Ady meets George Gershwin while passing through Harlem. George tells Ady to take a trip down to Richmond, Va., to hear his pal, Duke Ellington, who just happens to be giving a performance the following evening in a place called Jackson Ward. When we get to this part of the story, the kids always gasp. They have no idea that I wrote the story, or that it's not true. It's pretty cute.

What are your hopes for this performance and future performances?

We've already performed this show for thousands of children in the greater Richmond area, but it has never been open to the public like this. I hope there will be a lot of people at the performance, especially kids, who might not otherwise get to hear the story. Eventually, I would like to take the show outside of Richmond to rural areas in Virginia. And, further down the line, I'd like to make an audio recording of the story so that even more people can hear it. But first, I need to publish it so that it can be performed in schools all over the country as early as this fall.

"Ady's American Adventure" takes place at Atlas Gallery, 114 W. Marshall St. on Saturday, Jan. 21 at, 11 a.m. Free.

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